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Longboat Key and the Colony are the greatest shows on Earth

 

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Longboat Key is the greatest show on earth.

I do not mean the sunsets and the undulating tides.

I do not mean the tennis stars who match wits with rackets at the tennis center. Nor do I mean the endless waves of intelligent super achievers.

We are right now the land of two divine spectacles: The Town Commission election and the approval of the St. Regis Hotel and Residences.

This past week was especially exciting since at long last a new vision was approved to replace the morbid and moribund Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

But like a difficult birth, the St. Regis baby did not simply pop out of the Commissioners’ loins. It took hours of debate and wrangling over a myriad of issues. To push the analogy, it was close to giving birth to a breach baby without an epidural. Since I am a male and have only watched my wife give birth six times, I will stop these comparisons that are all too easy to allege. Instead, I will do what all men on Longboat Key do and utter opinions.

Credit must be paid to the Town Commission for numerous reasons. First, they faced an onslaught of opposition by Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck who threatened litigation and threw arguments against the wall with such velocity that he eventually tired out the entire room and damaged his own interests. Lobeck would have been far better raising doubts and letting the Commission chase the bait.

And going into Friday’s final hearing was harrowing. The Commission had booked the room for Saturday in case the matter needed a continuation. I feared the worst. Watching Commission meetings is like watching someone die slowly. You sense all life is ebbing and yet they are still clinging. You sense the inevitable yet it can drag on for days and weeks. On Friday, that did not happen.

 

Clarity prevails

It became clear the St. Regis plan would pass soon after Irwin Pastor made a motion for approval. Pastor made clear remarks about how the community and staff had helped fashion the plan and in essence made the Commission’s job far simpler than it might have been.

Commissioner Jack Daly gave a detailed and persuasive rationale for why voting “Yes” was appropriate and he said that the applicant met the necessary standards of “competent substantial evidence” to support his application and the use of the 165 tourism units from the Tourism pool.

Jim Brown voted in support but was frustrated that the size of the buildings had not been reduced to reflect the 24 units that Unicorp had to give up along the way.

Whittall, the president of Unicorp, is also to be commended. Ever eager to please and work a deal, one sensed that on Friday that Whittall had trimmed the project back as far as he could go without losing the commitment from St. Regis for a hotel. I had spoken to him on and off the record prior to the hearing and I believe he conceded all he could when he cut the ballroom and reduced the unit count over the past month. And that is how we as a community are best served — the smallest and least intensive development necessary to create a viable vision. And I mean a vision of something of the caliber of St. Regis; not a vision of a Best Western with an adjoining Gecko’s.

But the concessions and the final product — which will mark a new era for Longboat Key — was truly a group effort. And that sentiment deserves some play.

 

It takes a crazy “Village” to raze a Colony

Preserve Longboat Key and all of the residents and neighbors who had issues with the plan along the way acted as the perfect antidote to the initial oversized offering. The plan last spring was simply such an overreach that applicant Chuck Whittall had to overcome the contempt many expressed for his style and proposal which was too tall and overwrought with entitlements.

Then Whittall came back and the Planning and Zoning Board reduced the ballroom from 10,000 square feet to 7,650. Additionally, a parking management plan was enacted. A limit on event size capped to 425 attendees was adopted and that was before it got to the Commission.

Commissioner Jim Brown acted fairly in his remarks on first reading and asked the applicant to trim the setbacks of the building, which were accomplished.

In the end, Ed Zunz said he was going to support the plan and voted accordingly as did Randy Clair.

Clair was a surprise since he voted against the plan on first reading.

Commissioner George Spoll was the only one who voted against the final plan. He said repeatedly that he had been the father of the Tourism Unit pool and one could sense the deep attachment he had to “his baby.”

I submit that the pool that will now go to the St. Regis project could not have been put to better use and George acted stubbornly to save his authority to lord over Tourism units instead of voting for what is best for Longboat Key.

 

A future is born…

Let’s be clear: the St. Regis will be very expensive and upscale. For many it will not be the place to dine nightly. But as a destination for special occasions or as the place to go once a week it will allow another end of the barometer that creates the island’s panoply of dining. Ironically, it is less than a mile or two from the Old Salty Dog or even a burger at the New Pass Bait Shop. Then there is Euphemia Haye and Harry’s and Lazy Lobster and Ciao mid-Key and soon Moore’s will be replaced. What I am getting at is there is a dining tapestry all within 10 minutes of each other and that is before battling traffic to St. Armands.

As a father of four daughters and two sons — I cannot imagine better venues than the Longboat Key Club or the St. Regis to throw a wedding. It sounds corny but these are places where in the fleeting moments of life we freeze time into a memory. Murf Klauber had done that for me over and over. So many events such as my daughter’s birthdays with piñatas and chocolate cakes with fresh raspberry mouse in the Monkey room. What about the Sunday buffets and Stone Crab Festivals?

Then the Key Club. If you do not know Mark Walsh and his family then you have not met the most down-to earth-warmest business owners in the region. The Walsh family throws an annual charity event each year that mixed with the great food and vodka brings tears of joy as his family and friends and community come together. And we have the Lawn Party, the Bacchus Beach Party and all of the organizations that meet monthly at the Key Club. These are the places where Longboat gets together,

We as a community will create these moments at the St. Regis. We are fortunate to have this opportunity ahead of us.  Yes, there is still some financial jousting Chuck Whittall must undertake with Andy Adams, but there is light at the end of the rat infested and nearly collapsed Colony tunnel.

Soon the site will be cleared. Soon it will look less like a graveyard of twisted wood and rotting memories and more like a setting to be seared into our memories.

Take a deep breath: Things are looking far brighter on Longboat Key!

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1 Response for “Longboat Key and the Colony are the greatest shows on Earth”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    The longer Adams and Company holds out along with a few others, the more pressure is put on Whittall to make a deal on Adam’s terms for more money as litigation moves at a snails pace and could take 5 or more years for a final decision as to who owns what.

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